I was a shy kid. I found it hard to talk to other kids, adults and strangers (that last one was probably a good thing). Into my early 20’s I still had trouble talking to others in social situations, when applying for jobs, when needing to call businesses, etc.
It was in my mid 20’s when I was offered a job opportunity as training officer for ski resort that my vocal and social nervousness was really put to the test. As a seasonal organisation, with a massive influx of staff (some new and some return) at the start of every winter, in a number of roles both technical and customer service based, we facilitated a lot of training.
And it wasn’t just your standard workplace training either. My CEO at the time was a big advocate for professional and personal development and my direct manager also aimed to foster this in everything we did as a training team.
The first time I had to stand up in front of a group of people and deliver a presentation was to a room of 50 managers. The next time was to 450 new staff. I had to change my shirt after the first presentation due to the nervous perspiration! But with a few learned lessons and some simple tips and tricks from my mentors, I was not only able to get up there and do it; I was able to do it well!
- Something to hold onto
- Who ever came up with the idea of picturing the crowd naked obviously never stood in front of a crowd. This is definitely not helpful. A better distraction is holding on to a special memento… I had a special stone that I found when I was a child, and during my speech I held on to this, feeling its surface was enough to distract me from my audience, but not enough to distract me from what I was doing.
- Keep cool
So I learnt this one the hard way. You want to dress smart, but don’t go for the shirt, tie and jacket if you tend to warm up in those sorts of situations. Keep clothing light and don’t forget some deodorant. It’s also handy to have an easily accessible drink. I like to have a sippy style water bottle as it’s convenient when you are moving around and need a quick refreshment.
- Silence is golden
- Practise talking to friends or family and have someone keep tally of your ‘umms’ and ‘ahhs’ on a piece of. The first time someone did this for me it was a real eye-opener! I think the tally totalled more than the words in my presentation! Don’t be afraid of silence. It no only gives you a chance to catch your breath, but it gives your audience a chance to process the information you have just given them.
- Keep them on the edge of their seats
- Start of with a metaphor, a story, or a joke.. but only tell the first half. The audience will then be listening intently, waiting for the punch line. Don’t tell them your plan, but give them the other half at the end of your presentation. This keeps the audience captivated.
- Revise, revise, revise
Write out your presentation in full, and then bullet points, then read it how you want it to sound, record it, and listen to yourself. Even better, video it and then watch your mannerisms. This is also useful for planning out the timing of your presentation.
- Keep it simple stupid! Bit derogatory, I’m sure you are all smart. But if you are using a presentation, keep it simple. Don’t overload your slides with words or useless pictures. Just put the basics up there, the need to know, and expand from that. Don’t read from your slides… try and keep on track, but don’t look at them, or you will be tempted to start reading from them! Consider a hand out, short and brief, of the key info for your audience to take away.
My final tip is ‘feel the fear and do it anyway’ because you never know what you are capable of until you try.